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Narratives: 1776-1874

2 JULY 1776
“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves… the fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission… we have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.”

4 JULY 1776
“When in the course of human events…. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…. that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states….and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

The struggle for freedom in America began after the Colonial Wars between England and France. The English Colonies united in rebellion against the oppressive acts of Parliament and the occupying British military forces. The Stamp Act Congress and the First Continental Congress were initiated to formalize colonial grievances and arm the militia. On 19 April 1775, shots were exchanged between the British and the Colonial Militia at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Referred to as “The shot heard round the world”, this was the start of the Revolutionary War. Battles ensued which resulted in victories for the British and hardships for the Colonials. In October 1781, a large British force surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia. That defeat led to peace talks and the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the war on 3 September 1783.

WAR OF 1812
On 18 June 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain because they forced American seamen into the British Navy, violated U.S. territorial waters, and blockaded French ports. On 24 August 1814, the British marched into Washington and set fire to public buildings, including the White House. The United States military success at the Battle of New Orleans occurred two weeks after the signing of the Peace Treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814, which ended the war.

On 14 Sept 1814, Francis Scott Key was inspired by a 15 star flag, still flying over Fort McHenry, Maryland, after a lengthy British bombardment. He wrote the words as a patriotic poem that became a rallying cry for America. It was not until 3 March 1931 that the U.S. Government designated “The Star Spangled Banner”, as our National Anthem

Black Americans were initially recruited to serve in the Revolutionary War. Post-war laws first denied Blacks access to military service, but they eventually fought and served valiantly in all of the wars since 1812. Initially denied freedoms, suffering rejection and segregation, they proved themselves capable and courageous in fulfilling escalating responsibilities in recognition of their abilities. Fully integrated at the start of the Korean conflict and since, Black Americans confirmed their ability to perform in battle and at high levels of responsibility.

On 13 May 1846, Congress passed a resolution of war against Mexico after the U.S. military force occupying disputed territory north of the Rio Grande suffered casualties when fired upon by Mexicans. The first battle of the war at Palo Alto was fought before war was declared. U. S. attempts to settle the boundary dispute through negotiation and purchase failed. The U.S. President and his cabinet made war plans, which included strategies for taking over the Mexican territory of California. The American victory at Buena Vista ended the fighting in Northern Mexico. American forces entered southern Mexico and moved inland, capturing Mexico City on 14 September 1847. On 2 February 1848, the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadeloupe-Hidalgo to end the war. Mexico relinquished all claims to Texas north of the Rio Grande, and ceded New Mexico and California to the United States. Many officers who fought together in the conflict were later to fight on opposite sides in the Civil War.

Political and economic problems, such as slavery, westward expansion, and state’s rights, started the Civil War. America was split between a farming, slave-owning South and an industrialized North favoring free soil and protectionism. Following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the Southern States seceded from the Union. The attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, 12 April 1861, started the war.

Minnesota was the first state to volunteer troops to aid the Union during the Civil War of 1861-1865. The 25,000 volunteers played a great role in many important battles for the preservation of the Union and to end slavery. Minnesota volunteers served in many areas but are best known for their bravery at the Battle of Gettysburg where they incurred the highest casualty rate of any Civil War unit.

Mayo’s commitment to the military began with the Civil War when William W. Mayo was named examining surgeon for the enrollment board for the First Minnesota District. He served from April 1863 until February 1865.

Charles and Will Mayo served on the Medical Board For National Defense. In 1916 the board, working through the Red Cross, organized 50 base hospitals. One was organized through the University of Minnesota with financial support and staff from the Mayo Clinic.

In 1928, the Mayo Clinic Plummer Building was dedicated with the 23-bell carillon dedicated to the American soldier.

In 1934, the American Legion recognized W. J. and C. H. Mayo for "distinguished service to our sick and disabled comrades and to suffering humanity." President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented a plaque to the brothers at Soldiers Field Memorial Park on 8 August 1934.

Mayo research on oxygen requirements in humans, the development of the oxygen mask and an antigravity suit enabled high altitude flying. President Roosevelt recognized Mayo's efforts by presenting them with the highest U.S. aviation award in 1940.

In 1944, two Mayo Medical Units served in the Pacific Theater until the end of World War II.


The battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1 July 1863, is considered by historians as the turning point of a war that was to last another two years. This three-day battle was the largest and bloodiest battle ever in North America. The battle engaged 160,000 men with casualties of over 43,000, including 7,000 killed.

On 19 November 1863, at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, 17 acres were dedicated as a military cemetery. The keynote speaker stood in the field where nearly 7,000 men had died and delivered a polished oration for two hours. After the applause died away, Abraham Lincoln, holding two hand-written sheets, delivered these unforgettable sentences:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our Fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the Nation might live. This we may in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate-- we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here. It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

On 19 June 1864, a Union soldier from Byron, Minnesota entered Andersonville as a prisoner of the Confederacy. He was horrified by the crowded, dirty, brutal conditions in the prison and recorded his observations in a journal. Out of a total of 45,000 prisoners
12,920 died. He and his fellow POWs, suffered greatly due to starvation, lack of sanitation, and disease. At the end of the war, the commander of the prison was arrested, tried, and hanged. In 1970 the site of Andersonville Prison in Georgia was designated as a memorial to all Prisoners of War.

The 24-note bugle call known as “Taps” is thought to be a revision of a French bugle signal called “Tattoo”, which called soldiers back to their garrisons. The present day “Taps” originated during the Civil War. A Union general used it to signal day’s end. Other U.S. brigades and the Confederates adopted the mournful bugle call. The Army made it the official bugle call after the war. It was not given the name “Taps” until 1874. An 1891 regulation stipulated that “Taps” be played at military funerals. It is also played at memorial services, the lowering of the flag, and lights out.

Women have played important military roles since the Revolutionary War. Although unfairly treated in early wars, they distinguished themselves in teaching sanitation, nursing and spying. Disguised as men, they fought on battlefields. Although women were authorized to serve as nurses in 1861, they were not eligible for health care, salary and a uniform until 1899. During World War II, opposition to women in the military was strong. In May of 1942, the Women’s Auxiliary Corps was formed to serve with the Army but did not receive military status until August 1943. The Nurse Corps was denied rank until 1947 and veteran status until 1977. Women are now integrated into the military and serve in all capacities and levels of command.

In 1790 the U.S. Revenue Service was created to collect duties on foreign merchant ships and imports. Revenue Cutters participated in all our nation's wars, as did its successor, the U.S. Coast Guard, whose motto is SEMPER PARATUS, ("Always Ready").

Created in 1915, USCG transferred from the Treasury to the Transportation Department in 1967, and merged with the Homeland Security Department in 2003.

Responsible for the enforcement of U.S. laws at sea, search and rescue, port security, and aids to navigation, the USCG is a military service under the U.S. Navy in wartime.

Both regular and reserve men and women of the USCG have served at home and overseas in all major conflicts from WW-I to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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